A new type of camouflage has been designed by engineers to mimic the abilities of octopi, BBC News reports. The material is flexible and changes color, depending on its surroundings.
The material works with 1mm cells with temperature-driven dye that changes color. It currently only responds to black and white, but the team is hoping their design can be used in military and commercial applications.
The new camouflage material was a team effort from experts in biology, materials, computer and electrical engineering.
"Animals in the natural world — particularly cephalopods: octopus, squid and cuttlefish — have really spectacular color-changing capabilities," Professor John Rogers of the University of Illinois told BBC News. Rogers is the senior author of the paper that was published in the journal PNAS.
Octopi have three-layered skin, which was mimicked in the design of the new material. The top layer contains the colors, the middle drive the color change and the lower layer is able to sense its surroundings to copy patterns and colors.
This bottom layer works with a grid of photosensors which are able to detect changes in light to transmit the pattern to "actuators" in the middle layer. The actuators control the color-changing that takes place in the top layer by producing a current. The top layer uses temperature-sensitive pigment to switch from black to transparent.
"This is the first full, working system of its kind — it looks like a thin sheet of paper," Rogers said. "But it's nothing close to being ready to deploy, in a military setting or anything else. It's really a beginning point, to focus on the engineering science around how you might create systems that have this type of function."
The efficiency of the system could be improved by using solar cells instead of external power, which could improve the spatial and color resolution. Rogers says this can easily be done by incorporating existing technology, such as that found in flat-screen displays.
Researchers are also working on anti-camouflage materials that would change colors and patterns to attract attention, much like the way cuttlefish attract prey with rippling stripes.
Rogers is also looking into developing color-changing products for architecture and interior design.
"Our goal as researchers is not to develop a color-changing wallpaper. That's a vision that somebody had, for an application - and indeed, it's kind of cool. But our emphasis is more on the basics, around biologically inspired engineering."